The above question appears in Gemara Shabbos (21B) and opens three blatt of discussion about virtually every nuance of the laws of Chanukah. The Gemara there had gotten into a discussion of the mitzvah of lighting candles on Chanukah, when it sort of catches itself and asks, “Mai Chanukah,” just what is Chanukah? Rashi learns that the question of the Gemara is, “Due to what miracle did the rabbis establish the mitzvah of lighting candles on Chanukah?” Whereupon the Gemara tells the famous Chanukah story, concluding with, “And the next year, Chazal established the days of Chanukah to praise and to give thanks to HaShem.” Rashi explains, “To praise, by saying Hallel, and to give thanks, by saying Al Hanissim.”
So we seem to toggle back and forth between the mitzvah of lighting the candles and the mitzvah of praising HaShem and telling of His miracles. But how do these mitzvos combine into a seamless Yom Tov of Chanukah?
We find an interesting aspect to the mitzvah of lighting candles. And that is a mitzvah of seeing the neiros, seeing the candles and reflecting upon their message. The Shulchan Aruch rules that even if one’s wife were to be lighting for her entire family in their house (the husband not being home at the time of hadlakah), and thus the man has already technically fulfilled the mitzvah of lighting candles, still, if he is an area where there are no neiros to be seen, he should light the candles (although he does not make a brachah; (see Shulchan Aruch #677:3 with Shaar Hatziyun #21).
Where do find an equivalent idea, that besides the action-mitzvah of lighting, there is a separate mitzvah to see the neiros?
Actually, the wording of the song that we say after we light candles — Haneiros Halalu — indicate the connection. We say, “We have no permission to use the light of these candles; rather, just to see them, in order that we praise and thank you.”How does seeing, looking at, contemplating, the neiros lead to a praising and thanking which would otherwise be lacking?
The Al Hanissim prayer that we say in Shemoneh Esrei and bentching discusses the gezeiros on the Jewish people, and their military victory over the Greek/Syrians. It then concludes that portion of the prayer by saying, “And You have made for Yourself a great and holy Name, and for Your nation Yisrael you have fashioned a great salvation on this day…”The prayer then turns its attention to the rededication of the Beis Hamikdash and especially the Menorah (although the miracle of the Menorah is not mentioned), and talks about the establishment of the Yom Tov of Chanukah — to praise and to give thanks. Thus, there seem to be two distinct parts to this prayer: the military victory, which was a kiddush HaShem and a salvation for the Jewish people; and the rededication of the Beis Hamikdash and the Menorah, which led to the establishment of the Yom Tov of Chanukah, to give thanks and to praise HaShem’s name.
Ramban on Maseches Brachos says an amazing thought. In the midst of proving that certain brachos require saying HaShem’s Name and Kingship, even though the nusach in the Gemara doesn’t have it, the brachah we make on Chanukah over the candles, “she’asah nissim,” is the time/space equivalent of the brachah one makes when standing at a place where HaShem made nissim for Klal Yisrael, “she’asah nissim bamokom hazeh.” In other words, one brachah is made in the same place, one is made at the same time, which essentially is the same thing (says Ramban!). Therefore, just as the Gemara cites the brachah in truncated form over the neiros, but certainly we say the name of HaShem and His Kingship, so, too, the brachah at the place where nissim occurred requires HaShem’s name and mention of His Kingship.
Thus, the brachah “she’asah nissim” made during the lighting of the neiros is said by Ramban to be the equivalent of witnessing the place of the nes; the intensity is one of someone re–experiencing the miracle!
So, too, Raavad states (Hilchos Brachos, 11:15) that the brachah over the Chanukah lights are (like) brachos over the Menorah in the Beis Hamikdash, and therefore have certain requirements of a Torah-level obligation. And so once again, we find a re-experiencing of the Beis Hamikdash neiros through the neiros Chanukah!
Let us delve into this further. On one hand, Ramban in Maseches Avodah Zara (52B), in his sefer Milchamos HaShem, states that the Yevanim actually desecrated the holiness of the Beis Hamikdash (he sees in certain pesukim that invading non-Jews can have such an effect). That would mean that when the Chashmonaim rededicated, they had to rededicate not only the Altar (stated explicitly so in the Gemara there), but apparently the entire Beis Hamikdash now required a new dedication and renewal of its holiness. But it is not clear how that could happen without a navi present (as a technical requirement), when there was no longer any nevuah! And when Ramban enumerates the times when Bnei Yisrael had to actually dedicate the holiness of the Beis Hamikdash, he counts Solomon, Ezra, and Mashiach! But not the Chashmonaim!? Why not?
The Chashmonaim in one sense did rededicate the Beis Hamikdash; but in another sense did not. What does this mean?
In the beginning of Parshas Beha’aloschah, Ramban says that Aharon Hakohen was saddened by the fact that the kohanim had no role in the dedication of the Mishkan. Whereupon HaShem tells him, fear not; there will be a future dedication of a Temple which will be brought about davka through your descendants, the Chashmonaim, and through their lighting of the Menorah at that time! And this will have an everlasting endurance, as it will last beyond the Beis Hamikdash itself, for generations and generations to come (Chanukah).
And so we see that the Chanukah — the dedication-of the holiness of the Beis Hamikdash in the days of the Chashmonaim — was effected by… the neiros! And that that power lies in the lighting of Chanukah lights in all generations.
Next week, we’ll bring this all together and understand the depth of what we are learning about Chanukah.